Quentin Skinner

Quentin Robert Duthie Skinner ( * November 26, 1940 in Oldham, Lancashire ) is a British historian and political scientist who is a leading expert on the history of political ideas of the early modern period. He teaches since 2008 at Queen Mary College in London.


Skinner attended the University of Cambridge ( Gonville and Caius College), where he is an Honorary Fellow today. In 1961 he received a research grant of History and studied for four years, until 1965, he received his degree. Mid-70s, he spent five years at the " Institute for Advanced Study " in Princeton, initially as a historian, and later in the Department of Social Sciences, where he was a member of the " School of Historical Studies " and long-time member of the " School of Social Science ." 1978 Skinner became professor of intellectual history and political philosophy at Cambridge University, where he teaches today.

He held guest lectures at universities in over 20 different countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Romania and the United States.

From 1996 to 2008 Skinner was " Regius Professor of Modern History" at the University of Cambridge and teaches since then as Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary College in London.

Overview of the work

Skinner is one of the world's most important historians of political theory and the history of ideas. His main interest lies in the field of cross-cultural history of early modern Europe, where he specializes in two areas:

However, Skinner has also contributed to contemporary political philosophy. In addition to numerous articles on the nature of the state, historical explanations and the nature of interpretation in general, Skinner published an article about the political freedom, entitled " A Third Concept of Liberty ".

In his first major publication Foundations of Modern Political Thought (1978 ), the knowledge -constitutive interest lies in the fact expose the ideas of the Republican authors of the Renaissance. His publications are particularly influenced by the thinking of the Italian Renaissance ( Machiavelli ). In his later work, Liberty before Liberalism (1998), the emphasis is on the ideas of the English republicans of the mid-17th century, including John Milton, James Harrington and Algernon Sidney. Many of his writings from the 70s and 80s aimed at the development history of the modern idea of ​​the state.

Quentin Skinner is co-founder and one of the two heads of the influential " Cambridge School " of the history of political ideas - next to the historian JGA Pocock, whose work The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law (1957 ) Skinner strongly influenced. Other suggestions came from Peter Laslett, especially his edition of Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1996).

The " Cambridge School " is known that they pay attention to the languages ​​of political thought (see The languages ​​of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe, ed. By Anthony Pagden, 1997). Skinner, who has been dealing for years with the classical authors of political thought as Machiavelli, Thomas More, Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes, and their contents, made ​​his contribution of the above work by developing access to the interpretation of the genesis temporally shaped perspectives of the respective authors is released again. For such a historical contextualization Skinner considers it necessary to study the writings of lesser-known authors, who previously stood in the shadow of the classical authors.

The long-standing interest in the speech acts of political writing also explains why Skinner at the beginning of the 90s of the role of rhetoric in early modern political theory turned ( Reasons and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, 1996).

In recent years, Skinner has turned to the history of freedom. In his publication A Third Concept Of Liberty ( 2002) Skinner starts from the origin of the freedom of research, which he locates in Hobbes ' Leviathan. Following Skinner ( a concept that has been the history of ideas prepared by Jeremy Bentham ) and makes Berlin's vision of "positive" and "negative" freedom as the basis of his argument focuses on Isaiah Berlin's two concepts of freedom (1959). The third concept of freedom mean for Skinner, " not to be dependent on the will of the other ."

Initially criticized by him as outdated, Skinner sees in dealing with the history of ideas the chance to positively influence the current political discussion from political life by means of the notion of the classical authors.


2006 Skinner was awarded the Balzan Prize for History and Theory of Political Thought, 2008, he was honored with the Bielefeld Academic Award. The award was given in memory of Niklas Luhmann. The eulogy for Skinner held the Frankfurt social philosopher Axel Honneth; in the separate press release states: The Jury ( ... ) based its decision on the fundamental importance of Skinner's research. Skinner had " made ​​the history of political ideas on a new basis ." He is regarded as the world's eminent scholar and interpreter of the political philosophy of the early modern era of classical authors such as Machiavelli, Bodin and in particular his compatriot Thomas Hobbes. With his two-volume work, "The Foundations of Modern Political Thought " has become the founder of the Cambridge School of Intellectual History.


  • The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Volume 1: The Renaissance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1979, ISBN 978-0-52129-337-2 ( Table of Contents (PDF, 169 kB) ).
  • The Foundations of Modern Political Thought. Volume 2: The Age of Reformation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1979, ISBN 978-0-52129-435-5 ( Table of Contents (PDF, 83 kB) ).
  • Machiavelli to introduce ( = to launch. Band 250). Translated by Martin Suhr. Junius, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-88506-350-6 ( Original title:. Machiavelli A Very Short Introduction; contents).
  • Freedom and duty. Thomas Hobbes ' political theory ( = Adorno lecture. 2005). Published by the Institute for Social Research at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. Translated by Karin Wördemann. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-518-58498-9 ( Original title: Hobbes and Republican Liberty, table of contents).
  • Visions of the political ( = Suhrkamp Taschenbuch science. Tape 1910). Edited by Marion Heinz and Martin Ruehl. Translated by Robin Celikates and Eve Angel. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-518-29510-6 ( Original: Visions of Politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002, table of contents. ).
  • The three bodies of the state. Translated by Karin Wördemann. Wallenstein -Verlag, Göttingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8353-1157-2 (Index).